Are Fallen Arches Flat Feet?

Overview

Adult Acquired Flat Foot

Fallen arches, or flatfoot, is a condition in which the arch on the inside of the foot is flat and the entire sole of the foot rests on the ground. It affects about 40% of the general population. Although flat feet in themselves are not usually problematic, they can create problems in the feet, hips, ankles and knees. Pain may be experienced in the lower back if there are alignment problems and if the individual is engaged in a lot of heavy, high impact activities that put stress on the bones and muscles in the lower legs. The arches of most individuals are fully developed by the age of 12 to 13. While some people are born with flat arches, for others the arches fall over time. The tibial tendon, which runs along the inside of the ankle from above the ankle to the arch, can weaken with age and with heavy activity. The posterior tendon, main support structure for the arch, can become inflamed (tendonitis) or even tear if overloaded. For women, wearing high heels can affect the Achilles tendon and alter the structure and function of the ankle. The posterior tibial tendon may compensate for this stress and break down, causing the arches to fall. Obesity is another contributing factor, as well as a serious injury to the ankle or foot, arthritis and bad circulation such as occurs with diabetes.




Causes

Footwear: shoes which limit toe movement; high heels. Barefoot walking may be protective. A tight Achilles tendon or calf muscles (heel cord contracture). This may help to cause Pes Planus, or may contribute to symptoms such as foot pain when there is existing Pes Planus. Obesity. Other bony abnormalities, eg rotational deformities, tibial abnormalities, coalition (fusion) of tarsal bones, equinus deformity. Ligamentous laxity, eg familial, Marfan's syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, Down's syndrome. Other factors causing foot pronation, eg hip abductor weakness and genu valgum.




Symptoms

Flat feet don't usually cause problems, but they can put a strain on your muscles and ligaments (ligaments link two bones together at a joint). This may cause pain in your legs when you walk. If you have flat feet, you may experience pain in any of the following areas, the inside of your ankle, the arch of your foot, the outer side of your foot, the calf, the knee, hip or back. Some people with flat feet find that their weight is distributed unevenly, particularly if their foot rolls inwards too much (overpronates). If your foot overpronates, your shoes are likely to wear out quickly. Overpronation can also damage your ankle joint and Achilles tendon (the large tendon at the back of your ankle).




Diagnosis

It is important for people with foot pain to know if they have flat feet. The following tests can help you determine your arch type. When you get out of a swimming pool, look at your footprint on the concrete. The front of the foot will be joined to the heel by a strip. If your foot is flat, then the strip is the same width as the front of the foot, creating a footprint that looks like a stretched out pancake. With a normal arch, the strip is about half the width of the front of the foot. If you have a high arch, only a thin strip connects the front of the foot with the heel. Put your shoes on a flat table and view them at eye level from behind. See if the sole is worn evenly. A flat foot will cause more wear on the inside of the sole, especially in the heel area. The shoe will easily rock side to side. A flat foot will also cause the upper part of the shoe to lean inward over the sole. Both shoes should wear about the same way. If you have pain in one foot, you should make sure you don't have a fallen arch on that side. There are two good tests you can perform at home to detect this problem. Place your fingertips on a wall that you are directly facing and stand on your tiptoes on one foot. If you can't do it, a fallen arch may be the culprit. Stand with your feet parallel. Have someone stand in back of you and look at your feet from behind. You can also do it yourself if you stand with your back to a mirror. Normally, only the pinky toe is visible from behind. If one foot is flatter than the other, the 4th and sometimes the 3rd toe on that foot can also be seen.




Non Surgical Treatment

Most patients can be treated without surgery using orthotics, supportive shoes and braces. Because of the progressive nature of PTTD, early treatment is advised. If treated early enough, your symptoms may resolve without the need for surgery and progression of your condition can be arrested. In contrast, untreated PTTD could leave you with an extremely flat foot, painful arthritis in the foot and ankle, and increasing limitations on walking, running, or other activities.




Surgical Treatment

Adult Acquired Flat Feet

Common indications for surgery are cerebral palsy with an equinovalgus foot, to prevent progression and breakdown of the midfoot. Rigid and painful Pes Planus. To prevent progression, eg with a Charcot joint. Tibialis posterior dysfunction, where non-surgical treatment is unsuccessful. Possible surgical procedures include Achilles tendon lengthening. Calcaneal osteotomy, to re-align the hindfoot. Reconstruction of the tibialis posterior tendon. For severe midfoot collapse of the arch, triple arthrodesis may be indicated.




After Care

Patients may go home the day of surgery or they may require an overnight hospital stay. The leg will be placed in a splint or cast and should be kept elevated for the first two weeks. At that point, sutures are removed. A new cast or a removable boot is then placed. It is important that patients do not put any weight on the corrected foot for six to eight weeks following the operation. Patients may begin bearing weight at eight weeks and usually progress to full weightbearing by 10 to 12 weeks. For some patients, weightbearing requires additional time. After 12 weeks, patients commonly can transition to wearing a shoe. Inserts and ankle braces are often used. Physical therapy may be recommended. There are complications that relate to surgery in general. These include the risks associated with anesthesia, infection, damage to nerves and blood vessels, and bleeding or blood clots. Complications following flatfoot surgery may include wound breakdown or nonunion (incomplete healing of the bones). These complications often can be prevented with proper wound care and rehabilitation. Occasionally, patients may notice some discomfort due to prominent hardware. Removal of hardware can be done at a later time if this is an issue. The overall complication rates for flatfoot surgery are low.
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